Halstead Town 2 Haverhill Borough 2 (26th Dec 2015)
It was perhaps fitting on a day when I rejected the more traditional customs of Boxing Day in favour of a non-league double-header, that I ended up watching a team nicknamed “The Humbugs”. It was coming back from a game of last year’s double-header that I passed through Halstead and noticed that it looked quite a cosy little town, making a mental note to stop off at traditional “inn” type pub smack in the centre if we ever came back this way.
Alas, as charming as “The Bull Inn” looked, our arrival as just past 10 am meant that although the place was open, they weren’t serving beer until 11, which I’d have thought rather defeated the whole point of a pub opening at all. Maybe Halstead has a swimming pool which would open at 10, but wouldn’t be filled with water until 11, or a library that would open as long as you didn’t want to read anything for an hour.
Handily there was another smaller pub just up the road which had mastered the art of serving beer when it was open, and did fine breakfasts too, for just £3.50. Puzzlingly it was name “The Locomotive”, when there wasn’t a railway line in sight. It appears we were a mere 53 years too late for that, as the old Halstead Railway Station platform would have ended round about where the pub starts, before being closed in the 1962 Dr Beeching cuts.
Had one of those trains chuffed a couple of hundred metres north, while presumably nearly empty, it would have passed directly by the western end of Halstead’s ground. There’s not a great deal to this end. In fact there isn’t much of note, beyond a footpath that slopes towards the pitch, as it laid by a workman in need of an orthopaedic shoe, on three sides of the place. There was an industrial unit behind one end, which would have the strength of its roof tested on a couple of occasions by some very energetic and wayward shots, and the spire of a church could be seen in the distance from some angles, but that was about it.
The other side though, contained a stand that looked quite out of place at this level. It probably only had about 350 seats, if you include sitting on the back concrete step, but looked quite substantial for a league where getting crowds of over 70 makes you one of the “big boys” of the division. It had probably seen better days, and the screen ends probably had glass in them at some stage in the stand’s life, but it gave enough character to the ground to allow you to overlook the lack of anything at all really on the other three sides.
I’d seen today’s visitors, Haverhill Borough, the previous Boxing Day. They’d drawn that day, and they’d draw again, despite looking like they’d do considerably better at half time. They’d opened the scoring, banging in a shot from a cross, then scored a long range free kick, with the home keeper looking badly positioned and unable to get anywhere near the shot.
The Humbugs, despite their name, came out for the second half looking like they didn’t want to ruin anyone’s Christmas. The extra effort was counting for nothing until they got a free kick right on the edge of the area with 20 minutes left though. This was unstoppably thumped low and into the net to put the home side back in the game.
It didn’t take them too long to level either. A corner came in, and as it skidded through a crowd of players, a Halstead player was on hand to flick into the net to bring the score to 2-2.
There looked only one winner, and Halstead probably ought to have gone ahead when a high through ball brought about a chase between striker and keeper. The striker got there first, but it would be fair to say he lacked a little composure, blasting the ball way over.
Striker and keeper had something of a disagreement afterwards, resulting in a rather unfriendly punch from the keeper, who was then offered the chance to get the water in the showers ready for the rest of the team who’d join him a few minutes later. He can’t have had any complaints, and the sound of him kicking one or two objects as he went down the players’ tunnel must surely just have been what he’d do when in complete agreement with the decision.
And so, for the final few minutes, we were treated to the these days rare sight of an outfield player donning the keeper’s jersey and trying to remember what he used to do when he last played in goal, playing headers & volleys when he was 12. Such occasions are usually either cameo or comedy, with the pretend keeper either looking clueless and being a liability, or managing to be eccentrically effective.
Sadly Halstead just didn’t have the time, or ability, to really test him out, leaving both teams leaving the field to be unusually a little disappointed, and also a little relieved.
After being “a little relieved” myself, in an altogether different way, it was back in the car and off to the second game. The second ground would feature more stands, but would it feature as many goals? I’d have to wait and see.